Reading about history fascinates and frustrates me. I am always encouraged by the inspiring stories of those who have come before me. I love to read about the great scientists who worked so hard to prove their theories and share their ideas with the world, to learn about people who overcame great obstacles to succeed, and to come to know ordinary people who made a difference in this world. Yet, I am also frustrated at how often we, as people and societies, repeat the same mistakes over and over. We never seem to learn from the past. It seems that every generation thinks they are smarter and wiser than the previous generation and therefore immune from doing the “foolish” things of their ancestors. Yet, as I was reading about the cycles of history in The Fourth Turning, I couldn’t help wondering, do we really have to keep repeating these cycles? I have no doubt that these cycles occur, but do we really have to have a crisis every eighty to one hundred years?
Are these cycles merely a result of people turning away from God? When people are prosperous, they tend to forget God. They focus on their wealth and prosperity and God becomes less important. It is only with a crisis and the ensuing suffering that people are compelled to remember God and begin again to follow Him. Eventually the crisis and suffering passes; the people become prosperous again and God is once again forgotten. Then another crisis is necessary to bring the people back to God. This cycle repeats over and over.
So how do we overcome these cycles? Or should we? Are these cycles just part of our earthly experience? After all, there must be opposition in all things. Are these cycles just part of that opposition? Can we truly appreciate health if we never have sickness? Can we appreciate joy if we never have pain and sorrow? Can we appreciate prosperity without deprivation?
My inclination is of course to remove these cycles. Wouldn’t the world be a better place without suffering, without greed, and all of the other sins of man? I am not sure. Can I learn not to judge others without first experiencing the pain of having been wrongly judged by another? Can I really appreciate a good meal without first going hungry? Can I have compassion for another if I have never suffered?
I believe these cycles are necessary because they enable us to pass through all of the seasons of life. In each person’s lifetime, he/she will experience a high (spring), an awakening (summer), an unraveling (fall) and a crisis (winter). We may each experience them at different points in our maturity, but we will all pass through each season. Spring and summer are wonderful seasons. They are a time of renewal and rest, but it is the fall and winter that make us who we truly are. It is in the difficult times that we come to understand what is really important. It is through our struggles that we become strong.
I have never liked winter. I don’t like the cold, the naked trees, the barren landscape or the gray skies. But in moving to a place that really doesn’t have a “winter,” I realize that I do not have the same anticipation for “spring” that I used to have. Here it is always green, there are always flowers, and it is always sunny. The days just seem to blend together and suddenly it is hot. Without the cold, barren winter, I really don’t have as great an appreciation for the blossoming of spring.
Would my life really be complete without passing through a time of crisis? I do not think so. I cannot become the person I should be, without passing through all four seasons. I need a winter, a time of suffering and deprivation, to truly appreciate spring, a time of prosperity and blessings. I need a winter to truly understand my need for a Savior. I cannot possibly appreciate the sacrifice He made for me, until I pass through my own suffering and come face to face with my own weakness. I need a winter or time of crisis, so that I do not forget God.